Monday, October 08, 2018

Best Case Scenario? We've Got Twelve Years.

The persistently optimistic, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, gives humanity twelve years to mend our ways.

Within a dozen years, i.e. by 2030, the world must have massively curbed our consumption of fossil fuels if we're to have any hope of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Can it be done? Sure. Will it be? That's another matter entirely. The odds are not looking good.

Just two weeks ago, OPEC released a forecast of a rosy future for all fossil fuels, including coal.
Opec expects global oil demand to reach nearly 112m barrels per day by 2040, driven by transportation and petrochemicals. That is up from almost 100m today and higher than last year’s projection. 
Coal will continue to be be burned in record amounts, despite concerns about its impact on climate change. Opec estimates that coal usage in the OECD countries will plummet by a third by 2040, but it will increase by 20% in developing countries to reach five times the volumes burned in the west.
The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook, 2018 won't be out for another month but this is from the 2017 Outlook:
In the New Policies Scenario, global energy needs rise more slowly than in the past but still expand by 30% between today and 2040. This is the equivalent of adding another China and India to today’s global demand.
Do you see the problem there? We desperately need fossil energy consumption to plummet - no, to crater - but it's headed in the other direction and fast. And every state that has fossil fuel reserves, even bitumen, is racing to get on that gravy train of civilizational ruin.

There's now roughly thirty trillion dollars in fossil energy reserves subscribed on the stock exchanges and bourses of the world. That's the infamous "Carbon Bubble" that has the global economy in a choke hold. Burst it and some warn it will plunge the world into a global depression like nothing seen in the 20th century.  Yet it was that Carbon Bubble that former Potsdam Institute director, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber spoke of at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 when he said the delegates' only hope of meeting even the 2 degree Celsius warming limit depended on the "induced implosion" of the fossil energy industry.
Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an adviser to the German government and Pope Francis, said on Friday: “In the end it is a moral decision. Do you want to be part of the generation that screwed up the planet for the next 1,000 years? I don’t think we should make that decision.”

The Paris conference was attended by more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries. Schellnhuber told the delegates: “In order to stay below 2C (36F) [the internationally agreed limit for global warming], or even 3C, we need to have something really disruptive, which I would call an induced implosion of the carbon economy over the next 20-30 years. Otherwise we have no chance of avoiding dangerous, perhaps disastrous, climate change.”
Governments must euthanize their fossil fuel industries which, logically, begins with halting production of the highest-carbon, most climate dangerous fuels, thermal coal and bitumen. Those products need to be left safely in the ground. Now. If we can't stop the really dirty fuels we'll never stop the rest. We'll be making the lethal projections of OPEC and the IEA a reality.

Why does 1.5C matter?

2 degrees of warming, 1.5 degrees of warming, or, as the Trump White House recently conceded, 4 degrees Celsius of warming, why does it matter? I addressed that question recently in response to Trump's astonishing indifference.

We're now playing with the future of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They don't get a say in our government's energy policy but our government has a powerful voice in making whatever future awaits them far more brutal than it need be. Just because we're not overtly writing them off changes nothing. We're doing it nonetheless. The parties so many Canadians support, Liberal and Conservative, are on the same page on this one. When you vote for these parties you're endorsing their high-carbon energy policies. That's right, you.

The Guardian article addresses what's at stake in keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. I won't repeat it all again.
Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050, compared with 2075 for 2C. This would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2C target. But the costs of doing nothing would be far higher. 
“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”
Don't underestimate what it would mean to cut carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. It would mean bursting the Carbon Bubble, writing off trillions of dollars of resources from the global financial statement. It would mean the end of Athabasca bitumen just as our government was neck deep in billions of dollars of revenue squandered on Justin Trudeau's pipeline. Not a pretty sight.

The most compelling argument for doing whatever it takes to slash carbon emissions massively enough to give us a chance at a 1.5C (near term) cap, came from a brief comment by an IPCC scientist on BBC News this morning. She said the urgency of holding the line at 1.5C was to "buy time" desperately needed to implement adaptation strategies for the next few generations. We need to buy time so that we can make the climate change impacts they will experience as manageable as possible.

We need to buy time for our grandkids and their kids. We need to buy time and it won't be cheap.


Owen Gray said...

Human history is replete with Marches of Folly. But this is the biggest one of all -- The Grade Finale.

The Mound of Sound said...

It could be just that, Owen. Should that occur it won't be that we didn't know better.

Karl Kolchak said...

If you REALLY care about climate change, don't have children and grandchildren--especially if you live in North America, the EU or Australia/New Zealand. That's what I consciously decided to do, so I figure I've done far more than most.

The Mound of Sound said...

Few get to decide "not to have grandchildren" Karl.